A self-made millionaire who built his fortune in real estate, Buss bought the Lakers in 1979. He charted his successful course with marquee players
"I really tried to create a Laker image, a distinct identity," Buss said. "I mean, the Lakers are pretty damn Hollywood."
It was a remarkable winning streak for a man who dug his way out of a hardscrabble youth.
A Depression-era baby, Jerry Hatten Buss was born Jan. 27, 1933, in Salt Lake City. His parents divorced when he was an infant.
His mother struggled to make ends meet as a waitress in tiny Evanston, Wyo., and Buss remembered standing in food lines in the bitter cold.
Later, Buss earned a science scholarship to the University of Wyoming. At 19 he married a coed named JoAnn Mueller, and they would eventually have four children: John, Jim, Jeanie and Janie.
By the mid-1950s, the couple had moved to Southern California, where Buss earned a doctorate in chemistry at USC. He worked briefly in the aerospace industry, and in the late 1950s, he and a colleague, Frank Mariani, tried their hand at real estate.
They scraped together a few thousand dollars to buy a 14-unit apartment house in West Los Angeles and, to save money, did all the repairs themselves. Their real estate company kept growing as they invested in residential properties, hotels and office buildings.
In 1979, Buss and his partners bought the Lakers (along with the Forum in Inglewood), the
At the time, the NBA had fallen by the wayside and several teams stood on the brink of bankruptcy.
But to Buss, the Lakers looked like a gem in the coal bin. They had a dominant center in Abdul-Jabbar, and the team picked the effervescent Johnson out of Michigan State in the 1979
Success came quickly. With former Lakers star
The Lakers' next title era came with O'Neal; the precocious Bryant, whom they traded for after he was drafted out of high school; and Jackson as coach. The Lakers won three consecutive championships from 2000 through 2002.
The team then flamed out in the 2004
After a few more disappointing seasons, Bryant demanded a trade, but Buss stood firm.
The Lakers, with Jackson back as coach and with
"Jerry Buss helped set the league on the course it is on today," NBA Commissioner
Former Times staff writer Mark Heisler contributed to this report.